University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Chancellor Robert Jones condemned the “anti-Semitic content” featured in a presentation during a Sept. 25 housing staff meeting as well as a swastika found on campus on Oct. 7.
According to Jones’ Oct. 9 email to university members, a student-worker gave the presentation “in a regularly scheduled, staff development program on diversity for Housing Resident Advisors that included 11 other student-employees and one full-time staff member.”
The presentation, titled “Palestine and the Great March: Palestinian Resistance to 70 Years of Israeli Terror,” equates Israel with South Africa apartheid and describes Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas 2014 as an “assault on Gaza.” It also defines Palestinian “martyrdom” as “death which is desired by a warrior, selected with all the awareness, logic, reasoning, intelligence, understanding, consciousness, and alertness that a human being has.”
“Instead of fostering dialogue, [the presentation] incited division, distrust and anger,” Jones wrote. “The program allowed our students to enter an extremely challenging and potentially volatile situation without the preparation, training, education and professional oversight they needed to succeed. This is inexcusable and unacceptable. This is a failure to our students, and that is my responsibility.”
He also noted that the university was investigating a swastika that was discovered in the Foreign Languages Building.
“I want to state publicly and unequivocally that acts and expressions of anti-Semitism are acts and expressions of hatred and discrimination that are in direct opposition to our core values,” Jones wrote. “Bias and prejudice are antithetical to the educational foundations of our university and hurtful to our entire community. The idea that any individual feels threatened for expression of personal religious or ethnic identity is unacceptable. We will always recognize the rights of those on the campus to safely and freely express their perspectives and opinions. But we will also be ready to condemn statements and actions that violate our shared values and seek to demean, intimidate or devalue others in our community.”
The pro-Israel student group Illini Public Affairs Committee (IlliniPAC) said in an Oct. 10 statement on Facebook that the Sept. 25 meeting was required for all resident advisors (RAs) and the presentation was given as a Multicultural Advocate (MA) presentation. IlliniPAC pointed out that MAs are supposed to encourage “dialogue among students” and promote an “inclusive” environment.
“IlliniPAC’s major grievance with this particular event with this particular event was how it, with a violation of an MA’s duty and role, labeled Israel blanketly as a terrorist nation, and as a result did not facilitate any sort of conversational pieces of information for both sides of this very complex political debate,” the statement read.
IlliniPAC Executive Board Member Daniel Raab told the student newspaper Daily Illini, “When you are demonizing the state of Israel strictly without context of other nations, you are singling out the Jewish state, you are singling out 7 million Jews who live in Israel out of the whole world and the whole world’s problems: that’s anti-Semitism.”
According to an Oct. 13 StandWithUs Action Alert, Illini Hillel Executive Director Erez Cohen said in an email that he viewed the presentation as more troubling than the swastika, stating, “With content celebrating martyrdom which promotes the deliberate killing of Jews, this training is truly terrifying the day after a shooting at a synagogue in Germany, and one year after the largest massacre of Jews on American soil… how can students feel safe knowing that the staff in their first home away from their parents has been trained to support the killing of others?”
StandWithUs praised Jones for his response, but urged the university to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism as well as “improve university responses to complaints of anti-Semitism.”
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) UIUC member Dunia Ghanimah told The Daily Illini that she’s the author of the presentation and defended it as “criticizing the [Israeli] government for committing terrorist acts, not the people.” She wouldn’t tell the student paper if she was at the Sept. 25 meeting.
SJP UIUC argued in favor of the presentation being shown at the Sept. 25 meeting in an Oct. 10 Facebook post.
“It is well within the scope of the role of the MA to raise awareness on Palestine and the Occupation,” the post read. “Conflating the two ideas of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism undermines the larger movement for justice in Palestine that has been led by Palestinians of all racial, religious, gender, and sexual backgrounds. This conflation has been used in the past as a scare tactic against students and workers in the Palestine movement, and it is rooted in a false understanding of what the movement stands for and what it advocates for.”